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The Fables of La Fontaine by Jean de La Fontaine

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A genteel dinner every way;
They needed not to find an ox's leg.
Brimful of joy and appetite,
They were about to sack the box,
So tight without the aid of locks,
When suddenly there came in sight
A personage--Sir Pullet Fox.
Sure, luck was never more untoward
Since Fortune was a vixen froward!
How should they save their egg--and bacon?
Their plunder couldn't then be bagg'd;
Should it in forward paws be taken,
Or roll'd along, or dragg'd?
Each method seem'd impossible,
And each was then of danger full.
Necessity, ingenious mother,
Brought forth what help'd them from their pother.
As still there was a chance to save their prey,--
The spunger yet some hundred yards away,--
One seized the egg, and turn'd upon his back,
And then, in spite of many a thump and thwack,
That would have torn, perhaps, a coat of mail,
The other dragg'd him by the tail.
Who dares the inference to blink,
That beasts possess wherewith to think?

Were I commission'd to bestow
This power on creatures here below,
The beasts should have as much of mind
As infants of the human kind.
Think not the latter, from their birth?
It hence appears there are on earth
That have the simple power of thought
Where reason hath no knowledge wrought.
And on this wise an equal power I'd yield
To all the various tenants of the field;
Not reason such as in ourselves we find,
But something more than any mainspring blind.
A speck of matter I would subtilise
Almost beyond the reach of mental eyes;--
An atom's essence, one might say,
An extract of a solar ray,
More quick and pungent than a flame of fire,--
For if of flame the wood is sire,
Cannot the flame, itself refined,
Give some idea of the mind?
Comes not the purest gold
From lead, as we are told?
To feel and choose, my work should soar--
Unthinking judgment--nothing more.
No monkey of my manufacture
Should argue from his sense or fact, sure:
But my allotment to mankind
Should be of very different mind.
We men should share in double measure,
Or rather have a twofold treasure;
The one the soul, the same in all
That bear the name of animal--
The sages, dunces, great and small,
That tenant this our teeming ball;--
The other still another soul,
Which should to mortals here belong
In common with the angel throng;
Which, made an independent whole,
Could pierce the skies to worlds of light,
Within a point have room to be,--
Its life a morn, sans noon or night.
Exempt from all destructive change--
A thing as real as it is strange.
In infancy this child of day
Should glimmer but a feeble ray.
Its earthly organs stronger grown,
The beam of reason, brightly thrown,
Should pierce the darkness, thick and gross,
That holds the other prison'd close.

[1] _Madame de la Sabliere_.--See the following note; also the
Translator's Preface.
[2] _Perhaps you have not heard of it_?--Madame de la Sabliere was
one of the most learned women of the age in which she lived, and knew
more of the philosophy of Descartes, in which she was a believer,
than our poet; but she dreaded the reputation of a "blue-stocking,"
and for this reason La Fontaine addresses her as if she might be
ignorant of the Cartesian theory.--Translator. Moliere's _Femme
Savante_, the object of which was to ridicule the French
"blue-stockings," had been only recently produced upon the stage
(1672), hence Madame de la Sabliere's fears, and La Fontaine's
delicate forbearance.
[3] _Beasts are mere machines_.--At this time the discussion as to
the mind in animals was very rife in the salons of Paris. Madame de
Sevigne often alludes to it in her Letters. La Fontaine further
contends against the "mere machine" theory in Fable IX., Book XI.
[4] _One of truly royal race_.--John Sobieski.--Translator. At the
time this was written, Sobieski's great victory over the Turks at
Choczim (1673) was resounding throughout Europe, and had made him
King of Poland (1674). Sobieski had previously been a frequent
visitor at the house of Madame de la Sabliere, where La Fontaine had
often met him. Sobieski is again alluded to as a guest of Madame de
la Sabliere, in Fable XV., Book XII.
[5] _Old Epicurus' rival_.--Descartes.--Translator.


'You villain!' cried a man who found
An adder coil'd upon the ground,
'To do a very grateful deed
For all the world, I shall proceed.'
On this the animal perverse
(I mean the snake;
Pray don't mistake
The human for the worse)
Was caught and bagg'd, and, worst of all,
His blood was by his captor to be spilt
Without regard to innocence or guilt.
Howe'er, to show the why, these words let fall
His judge and jailor, proud and tall:--
'Thou type of all ingratitude!
All charity to hearts like thine
Is folly, certain to be rued.
Die, then,
Thou foe of men!
Thy temper and thy teeth malign
Shall never hurt a hair of mine.'
The muffled serpent, on his side,
The best a serpent could, replied,--
'If all this world's ingrates
Must meet with such a death,
Who from this worst of fates
Could save his breath?
Upon thyself thy law recoils;
I throw myself upon thy broils,
Thy graceless revelling on spoils;
If thou but homeward cast an eye,
Thy deeds all mine will justify.
But strike: my life is in thy hand;
Thy justice, all may understand,
Is but thy interest, pleasure, or caprice:--
Pronounce my sentence on such laws as these.
But give me leave to tell thee, while I can,
The type of all ingratitude is man.'
By such a lecture somewhat foil'd,
The other back a step recoil'd,
And finally replied,--
'Thy reasons are abusive,
And wholly inconclusive.
I might the case decide
Because to me such right belongs;
But let's refer the case of wrongs.'
The snake agreed; they to a cow referr'd it.
Who, being called, came graciously and heard it.
Then, summing up, 'What need,' said she,
'In such a case, to call on me?
The adder's right, plain truth to bellow;
For years I've nursed this haughty fellow,
Who, but for me, had long ago
Been lodging with the shades below.
For him my milk has had to flow,
My calves, at tender age, to die.
And for this best of wealth,
And often reestablished health,
What pay, or even thanks, have I?
Here, feeble, old, and worn, alas!
I'm left without a bite of grass.
Were I but left, it might be weather'd,
But, shame to say it, I am tether'd.
And now my fate is surely sadder
Than if my master were an adder,
With brains within the latitude
Of such immense ingratitude.
This, gentles, is my honest view;
And so I bid you both adieu.'
The man, confounded and astonish'd
To be so faithfully admonish'd,
Replied, 'What fools to listen, now,
To this old, silly, dotard cow!
Let's trust the ox.' 'Let's trust,' replied
The crawling beast, well gratified.
So said, so done;
The ox, with tardy pace, came on
And, ruminating o'er the case,
Declared, with very serious face,
That years of his most painful toil
Had clothed with Ceres' gifts our soil--
Her gifts to men--but always sold
To beasts for higher cost than gold;
And that for this, for his reward,
More blows than thanks return'd his lord;
And then, when age had chill'd his blood,
And men would quell the wrath of Heaven,
Out must be pour'd the vital flood,
For others' sins, all thankless given.
So spake the ox; and then the man:--
'Away with such a dull declaimer!
Instead of judge, it is his plan
To play accuser and defamer.'
A tree was next the arbitrator,
And made the wrong of man still greater.
It served as refuge from the heat,
The showers, and storms which madly beat;
It grew our gardens' greatest pride,
Its shadow spreading far and wide,
And bow'd itself with fruit beside:
But yet a mercenary clown
With cruel iron chopp'd it down.
Behold the recompense for which,
Year after year, it did enrich,
With spring's sweet flowers, and autumn's fruits,
And summer's shade, both men and brutes,
And warm'd the hearth with many a limb
Which winter from its top did trim!
Why could not man have pruned and spared,
And with itself for ages shared?--
Much scorning thus to be convinced,
The man resolved his cause to gain.
Quoth he, 'My goodness is evinced
By hearing this, 'tis very plain;'
Then flung the serpent bag and all,
With fatal force, against a wall.

So ever is it with the great,
With whom the whim doth always run,
That Heaven all creatures doth create
For their behoof beneath the sun--
Count they four feet, or two, or none.
If one should dare the fact dispute,
He's straight set down a stupid brute.
Now, grant it so,--such lords among,
What should be done, or said, or sung?
At distance speak, or hold your tongue.

[6] Bidpaii.


A light-brain'd tortoise, anciently,
Tired of her hole, the world would see.
Prone are all such, self-banish'd, to roam--
Prone are all cripples to abhor their home.
Two ducks, to whom the gossip told
The secret of her purpose bold,
Profess'd to have the means whereby
They could her wishes gratify.
'Our boundless road,' said they, 'behold!
It is the open air;
And through it we will bear
You safe o'er land and ocean.
Republics, kingdoms, you will view,
And famous cities, old and new;
And get of customs, laws, a notion,--
Of various wisdom various pieces,
As did, indeed, the sage Ulysses.'
The eager tortoise waited not
To question what Ulysses got,
But closed the bargain on the spot.
A nice machine the birds devise
To bear their pilgrim through the skies.--
Athwart her mouth a stick they throw:
'Now bite it hard, and don't let go,'
They say, and seize each duck an end,
And, swiftly flying, upward tend.
It made the people gape and stare
Beyond the expressive power of words,
To see a tortoise cut the air,
Exactly poised between two birds.
'A miracle,' they cried, 'is seen!
There goes the flying tortoise queen!'
'The queen!' ('twas thus the tortoise spoke;)
'I'm truly that, without a joke.'
Much better had she held her tongue
For, opening that whereby she clung,
Before the gazing crowd she fell,
And dash'd to bits her brittle shell.

Imprudence, vanity, and babble,
And idle curiosity,
An ever-undivided rabble,
Have all the same paternity.

[7] Bidpaii.


No pond nor pool within his haunt
But paid a certain cormorant
Its contribution from its fishes,
And stock'd his kitchen with good dishes.
Yet, when old age the bird had chill'd,
His kitchen was less amply fill'd.
All cormorants, however grey,
Must die, or for themselves purvey.
But ours had now become so blind,
His finny prey he could not find;
And, having neither hook nor net,
His appetite was poorly met.
What hope, with famine thus infested?
Necessity, whom history mentions,
A famous mother of inventions,
The following stratagem suggested:
He found upon the water's brink
A crab, to which said he, 'My friend,
A weighty errand let me send:
Go quicker than a wink--
Down to the fishes sink,
And tell them they are doom'd to die;
For, ere eight days have hasten'd by,
Its lord will fish this water dry.'
The crab, as fast as she could scrabble,
Went down, and told the scaly rabble.
What bustling, gathering, agitation!
Straight up they send a deputation
To wait upon the ancient bird.
'Sir Cormorant, whence hast thou heard
This dreadful news? And what
Assurance of it hast thou got?
How such a danger can we shun?
Pray tell us, what is to be done?
'Why, change your dwelling-place,' said he,
'What, change our dwelling! How can we?'
'O, by your leave, I'll take that care,
And, one by one, in safety bear
You all to my retreat:
The path's unknown
To any feet,
Except my own.
A pool, scoop'd out by Nature's hands,
Amidst the desert rocks and sands,
Where human traitors never come,
Shall save your people from their doom.'
The fish republic swallow'd all,
And, coming at the fellow's call,
Were singly borne away to stock
A pond beneath a lonely rock;
And there good prophet cormorant,
Proprietor and bailiff sole,
From narrow water, clear and shoal,
With ease supplied his daily want,
And taught them, at their own expense,
That heads well stored with common sense
Give no devourers confidence.--
Still did the change not hurt their case,
Since, had they staid, the human race,
Successful by pernicious art,
Would have consumed as large a part.
What matters who your flesh devours,
Of human or of bestial powers?
In this respect, or wild or tame,
All stomachs seem to me the same:
The odds is small, in point of sorrow,
Of death to-day, or death to-morrow.

[8] Bidpaii.


A close-fist had his money hoarded
Beyond the room his till afforded.
His avarice aye growing ranker,
(Whereby his mind of course grew blanker,)
He was perplex'd to choose a banker;
For banker he must have, he thought,
Or all his heap would come to nought.
'I fear,' said he, 'if kept at home,
And other robbers should not come,
It might be equal cause of grief
That I had proved myself the thief.'
The thief! Is to enjoy one's pelf
To rob or steal it from one's self?
My friend, could but my pity reach you,
This lesson I would gladly teach you,
That wealth is weal no longer than
Diffuse and part with it you can:
Without that power, it is a woe.
Would you for age keep back its flow?
Age buried 'neath its joyless snow?
With pains of getting, care of got
Consumes the value, every jot,
Of gold that one can never spare.
To take the load of such a care,
Assistants were not very rare.
The earth was that which pleased him best.
Dismissing thought of all the rest,
He with his friend, his trustiest,--
A sort of shovel-secretary,--
Went forth his hoard to bury.
Safe done, a few days afterward,
The man must look beneath the sward--
When, what a mystery! behold
The mine exhausted of its gold!
Suspecting, with the best of cause,
His friend was privy to his loss,
He bade him, in a cautious mood,
To come as soon as well he could,
For still some other coins he had,
Which to the rest he wish'd to add.
Expecting thus to get the whole,
The friend put back the sum he stole,
Then came with all despatch.
The other proved an overmatch:
Resolved at length to save by spending,
His practice thus most wisely mending,
The total treasure home he carried--
No longer hoarded it or buried.
Chapfallen was the thief, when gone
He saw his prospects and his pawn.

From this it may be stated,
That knaves with ease are cheated.

[9] Abstemius.


A Wolf, replete
With humanity sweet,
(A trait not much suspected,)
On his cruel deeds,
The fruit of his needs,
Profoundly thus reflected.

'I'm hated,' said he,
'As joint enemy,
By hunters, dogs, and clowns.
They swear I shall die,
And their hue and cry
The very thunder drowns.

'My brethren have fled,
With price on the head,
From England's merry land.
King Edgar came out,
And put them to rout,[11]
With many a deadly band.

'And there's not a squire
But blows up the fire
By hostile proclamation;
Nor a human brat,
Dares cry, but that
Its mother mocks my nation.

'And all for what?
For a sheep with the rot,
Or scabby, mangy ass,
Or some snarling cur,
With less meat than fur,
On which I've broken fast!

'Well, henceforth I'll strive
That nothing alive
Shall die to quench my thirst;
No lambkin shall fall,
Nor puppy, at all,
To glut my maw accurst.
With grass I'll appease,
Or browse on the trees,
Or die of famine first.

'What of carcass warm?
Is it worth the storm
Of universal hate?'
As he spoke these words,
The lords of the herds,
All seated at their bait,
He saw; and observed
The meat which was served
Was nought but roasted lamb!
'O! O!' said the beast,
'Repent of my feast--
All butcher as I am--
On these vermin mean,
Whose guardians e'en
Eat at a rate quadruple!--
Themselves and their dogs,
As greedy as hogs,
And I, a wolf, to scruple!'

'Look out for your wool
I'll not be a fool,
The very pet I'll eat;
The lamb the best-looking,
Without any cooking,
I'll strangle from the teat;
And swallow the dam,
As well as the lamb,
And stop her foolish bleat.
Old Hornie, too,--rot him,--
The sire that begot him
Shall be among my meat!'

Well-reasoning beast!
Were we sent to feast
On creatures wild and tame?
And shall we reduce
The beasts to the use
Of vegetable game?

Shall animals not
Have flesh-hook or pot,
As in the age of gold?
And we claim the right,
In the pride of our might,
Themselves to have and hold?
O shepherds, that keep
Your folds full of sheep,
The wolf was only wrong,
Because, so to speak,
His jaws were too weak
To break your palings strong.

[10] Founded upon one of Philibert Hegemon's Fables.
[11] _King Edgar put them to rout._--The English king Edgar (reigned
959-75) took great pains in hunting and pursuing wolves; "and," says
Hume, "when he found that all that escaped him had taken shelter in
the mountains and forests of Wales, he changed the tribute of money
imposed on the Welsh princes by Athelstan, his predecessor, into an
annual tribute of three hundred heads of wolves; which produced such
diligence in hunting them, that the animal has been no more seen in
this island."--Hume's _England_, vol. i., p. 99, Bell's edit., 1854.


'O Jupiter, whose fruitful brain,
By odd obstetrics freed from pain,
Bore Pallas,[13] erst my mortal foe,[14]
Pray listen to my tale of woe.
This Progne[15] takes my lawful prey.
As through the air she cuts her way,
And skims the waves in seeming play.
My flies she catches from my door,--
'Yes, _mine_--I emphasize the word,--
And, but for this accursed bird,
My net would hold an ample store:
For I have woven it of stuff
To hold the strongest strong enough.'
'Twas thus, in terms of insolence,
Complain'd the fretful spider, once
Of palace-tapestry a weaver,
But then a spinster and deceiver,
That hoped within her toils to bring
Of insects all that ply the wing.
The sister swift of Philomel,
Intent on business, prosper'd well;
In spite of the complaining pest,
The insects carried to her nest--
Nest pitiless to suffering flies--
Mouths gaping aye, to gormandize,
Of young ones clamouring,
And stammering,
With unintelligible cries.
The spider, with but head and feet.
And powerless to compete
With wings so fleet,
Soon saw herself a prey.
The swallow, passing swiftly by,
Bore web and all away,
The spinster dangling in the sky!

Two tables hath our Maker set
For all that in this world are met.
To seats around the first
The skilful, vigilant, and strong are beckon'd:
Their hunger and their thirst
The rest must quell with leavings at the second.

[12] Abstemius.
[13] _Pallas_.--An allusion to the birth of Pallas, or Minerva--grown and
armed--from the brain of Jove.
[14] _Mortal foe_.--Arachne (whence the spider (_aranea_) has its name)
was a woman of Colopho who challenged Pallas to a trial of skill in
needlework, and, being defeated, hanged herself. She was changed
into a spider: _vide_ Ovid, _Metam._, Book VI., &c.
[15] _Progne_.--The sister of Philomela, turned into a swallow, as
mentioned in note to Fable XV., Book III.


With a set of uncivil and turbulent cocks,
That deserved for their noise to be put in the stocks,
A partridge was placed to be rear'd.
Her sex, by politeness revered,
Made her hope, from a gentry devoted to love,
For the courtesy due to the tenderest dove;
Nay, protection chivalric from knights of the yard.
That gentry, however, with little regard
For the honours and knighthood wherewith they were deck'd,
And for the strange lady as little respect,
Her ladyship often most horribly peck'd.
At first, she was greatly afflicted therefor,
But when she had noticed these madcaps at war
With each other, and dealing far bloodier blows,
Consoling her own individual woes,--
'Entail'd by their customs,' said she, 'is the shame;
Let us pity the simpletons rather than blame.
Our Maker creates not all spirits the same;
The cocks and the partridges certainly differ,
By a nature than laws of civility stiffer.
Were the choice to be mine, I would finish my life
In society freer from riot and strife.
But the lord of this soil has a different plan;
His tunnel our race to captivity brings,
He throws us with cocks, after clipping our wings.
'Tis little we have to complain of but man.'

[16] Aesop.


'What have I done, I'd like to know,
To make my master maim me so?
A pretty figure I shall cut!
From other dogs I'll keep, in kennel shut.
Ye kings of beasts, or rather tyrants, ho!
Would any beast have served you so?'
Thus Growler cried, a mastiff young;--
The man, whom pity never stung,
Went on to prune him of his ears.
Though Growler whined about his losses,
He found, before the lapse of years,
Himself a gainer by the process;
For, being by his nature prone
To fight his brethren for a bone,
He'd oft come back from sad reverse
With those appendages the worse.
All snarling dogs have ragged ears.

The less of hold for teeth of foe,
The better will the battle go.
When, in a certain place, one fears
The chance of being hurt or beat,
He fortifies it from defeat.
Besides the shortness of his ears,
See Growler arm'd against his likes
With gorget full of ugly spikes.
A wolf would find it quite a puzzle
To get a hold about his muzzle.


Two demons at their pleasure share our being--
The cause of Reason from her homestead fleeing;
No heart but on their altars kindleth flames.
If you demand their purposes and names,
The one is Love, the other is Ambition.
Of far the greater share this takes possession,
For even into love it enters,
Which I might prove; but now my story centres
Upon a shepherd clothed with lofty powers:
The tale belongs to older times than ours.

A king observed a flock, wide spread
Upon the plains, most admirably fed,
O'erpaying largely, as return'd the years,
Their shepherd's care, by harvests for his shears.
Such pleasure in this man the monarch took,--
'Thou meritest,' said he, 'to wield a crook
O'er higher flock than this; and my esteem
O'er men now makes thee judge supreme.'
Behold our shepherd, scales in hand,
Although a hermit and a wolf or two,
Besides his flock and dogs, were all he knew!
Well stock'd with sense, all else upon demand
Would come of course, and did, we understand.
His neighbour hermit came to him to say,
'Am I awake? Is this no dream, I pray?
You favourite! you great! Beware of kings,
Their favours are but slippery things,
Dear-bought; to mount the heights to which they call
Is but to court a more illustrious fall.
You little know to what this lure beguiles.
My friend, I say, Beware!' The other smiles.
The hermit adds, 'See how
The court has marr'd your wisdom even now!
That purblind traveller I seem to see,
Who, having lost his whip, by strange mistake,
Took for a better one a snake;
But, while he thank'd his stars, brimful of glee,
Outcried a passenger, "God shield your breast!
Why, man, for life, throw down that treacherous pest,
That snake!"--"It is my whip."--"A snake, I say:
What selfish end could prompt my warning, pray?
Think you to keep your prize?"--"And wherefore not?
My whip was worn; I've found another new:
This counsel grave from envy springs in you."--
The stubborn wight would not believe a jot,
Till warm and lithe the serpent grew,
And, striking with his venom, slew
The man almost upon the spot.
And as to you, I dare predict
That something worse will soon afflict.'
'Indeed? What worse than death, prophetic hermit?'
'Perhaps, the compound heartache I may term it.'
And never was there truer prophecy.
Full many a courtier pest, by many a lie
Contrived, and many a cruel slander,
To make the king suspect the judge awry
In both ability and candour.
Cabals were raised, and dark conspiracies,
Of men that felt aggrieved by his decrees.
'With wealth of ours he hath a palace built,'
Said they. The king, astonish'd at his guilt,
His ill-got riches ask'd to see.
He found but mediocrity,
Bespeaking strictest honesty.
So much for his magnificence.
Anon, his plunder was a hoard immense
Of precious stones that fill'd an iron box
All fast secur'd by half a score of locks.
Himself the coffer oped, and sad surprise
Befell those manufacturers of lies.
The open'd lid disclosed no other matters
Than, first, a shepherd's suit in tatters,
And then a cap and jacket, pipe and crook,
And scrip, mayhap with pebbles from the brook.
'O treasure sweet,' said he, 'that never drew
The viper brood of envy's lies on you!
I take you back, and leave this palace splendid,
As some roused sleeper doth a dream that's ended.
Forgive me, sire, this exclamation.
In mounting up, my fall I had foreseen,
Yet loved the height too well; for who hath been,
Of mortal race, devoid of all ambition?'

[17] Bidpaii (_The Hermit_). Also in Lokman.


Thrysis--who for his Annette dear
Made music with his flute and voice,
Which might have roused the dead to hear,
And in their silent graves rejoice--
Sang once the livelong day,
In the flowery month of May,
Up and down a meadow brook,
While Annette fish'd with line and hook.
But ne'er a fish would bite;
So the shepherdess's bait
Drew not a fish to its fate,
From morning dawn till night.
The shepherd, who, by his charming songs,
Had drawn savage beasts to him in throngs,
And done with them as he pleased to,
Thought that he could serve the fish so.
'O citizens,' he sang, 'of this water,
Leave your Naiad in her grot profound;
Come and see the blue sky's lovely daughter,
Who a thousand times more will charm you;
Fear not that her prison will harm you,
Though there you should chance to get bound.
'Tis only to us men she is cruel:
You she will treat kindly;
A snug little pond she'll find ye,
Clearer than a crystal jewel,
Where you may all live and do well;
Or, if by chance some few
Should find their fate
Conceal'd in the bait,
The happier still are you;
For envied is the death that's met
At the hands of sweet Annette.'
This eloquence not effecting
The object of his wishes,
Since it failed in collecting
The deaf and dumb fishes,--
His sweet preaching wasted,
His honey'd talk untasted,
A net the shepherd seized, and, pouncing
With a fell scoop at the scaly fry,
He caught them; and now, madly flouncing,
At the feet of his Annette they lie!

O ye shepherds, whose sheep men are,
To trust in reason never dare.
The arts of eloquence sublime
Are not within your calling;
Your fish were caught, from oldest time,
By dint of nets and hauling.

[18] Aesop.


Two parrots lived, a sire and son,
On roastings from a royal fire.
Two demigods, a son and sire,
These parrots pension'd for their fun.
Time tied the knot of love sincere:
The sires grew to each other dear;
The sons, in spite of their frivolity,
Grew comrades boon, in joke and jollity;
At mess they mated, hot or cool;
Were fellow-scholars at a school.
Which did the bird no little honour, since
The boy, by king begotten, was a prince.
By nature fond of birds, the prince, too, petted
A sparrow, which delightfully coquetted.
These rivals, both of unripe feather,
One day were frolicking together:
As oft befalls such little folks,
A quarrel follow'd from their jokes.
The sparrow, quite uncircumspect,
Was by the parrot sadly peck'd;
With drooping wing and bloody head,
His master pick'd him up for dead,
And, being quite too wroth to bear it,
In heat of passion kill'd his parrot.
When this sad piece of news he heard,
Distracted was the parent bird.
His piercing cries bespoke his pain;
But cries and tears were all in vain.
The talking bird had left the shore;[20]
In short, he, talking now no more,
Caused such a rage to seize his sire,
That, lighting on the prince in ire,
He put out both his eyes,
And fled for safety as was wise.
The bird a pine for refuge chose,
And to its lofty summit rose;
There, in the bosom of the skies,
Enjoy'd his vengeance sweet,
And scorn'd the wrath beneath his feet.
Out ran the king, and cried, in soothing tone,
'Return, dear friend; what serves it to bemoan?
Hate, vengeance, mourning, let us both omit.
For me, it is no more than fit
To own, though with an aching heart,
The wrong is wholly on our part.
Th' aggressor truly was my son--
My son? no; but by Fate the deed was done.
Ere birth of Time, stern Destiny
Had written down the sad decree,
That by this sad calamity
Your child should cease to live, and mine to see.

'Let both, then, cease to mourn;
And you, back to your cage return.'
'Sire king,' replied the bird,
'Think you that, after such a deed,
I ought to trust your word?
You speak of Fate; by such a heathen creed
Hope you that I shall be enticed to bleed?
But whether Fate or Providence divine
Gives law to things below,
'Tis writ on high, that on this waving pine,
Or where wild forests grow,
My days I finish, safely, far
From that which ought your love to mar,
And turn it all to hate.
Revenge, I know, 's a kingly morsel,
And ever hath been part and parcel
Of this your godlike state.
You would forget the cause of grief;
Suppose I grant you my belief,--
'Tis better still to make it true,
By keeping out of sight of you.
Sire king, my friend, no longer wait
For friendship to be heal'd;....
But absence is the cure of hate,
As 'tis from love the shield.'

[19] Bidpaii. In Knatchbull's English edition the fable is titled "The
King and the Bird, or the emblem of revengeful persons who are
unworthy of trust." It is also in the Lokman collection.
[20] _The talking bird_, &c.--"Stygia natabat jam frigida


The lioness had lost her young;
A hunter stole it from the vale;
The forests and the mountains rung
Responsive to her hideous wail.
Nor night, nor charms of sweet repose,
Could still the loud lament that rose
From that grim forest queen.
No animal, as you might think,
With such a noise could sleep a wink.
A bear presumed to intervene.
'One word, sweet friend,' quoth she,
'And that is all, from me.
The young that through your teeth have pass'd,
In file unbroken by a fast,
Had they nor dam nor sire?'
'They had them both.' 'Then I desire,
Since all their deaths caused no such grievous riot,
While mothers died of grief beneath your fiat,
To know why you yourself cannot be quiet?'
'I quiet!--I!--a wretch bereaved!
My only son!--such anguish be relieved!
No, never! All for me below
Is but a life of tears and woe!'--
'But say, why doom yourself to sorrow so?'--
'Alas! 'tis Destiny that is my foe.'

Such language, since the mortal fall,
Has fallen from the lips of all.
Ye human wretches, give your heed;
For your complaints there's little need.
Let him who thinks his own the hardest case,
Some widowed, childless Hecuba behold,
Herself to toil and shame of slavery sold,
And he will own the wealth of heavenly grace.


No flowery path to glory leads.
This truth no better voucher needs
Than Hercules, of mighty deeds.
Few demigods, the tomes of fable
Reveal to us as being able
Such weight of task-work to endure:
In history, I find still fewer.
One such, however, here behold--
A knight by talisman made bold,
Within the regions of romance,
To seek adventures with the lance.
There rode a comrade at his ride,
And as they rode they both espied
This writing on a post:--
"Wouldst see, sir valiant knight,
A thing whereof the sight
No errant yet can boast?
Thou hast this torrent but to ford,
And, lifting up, alone,
The elephant of stone
Upon its margin shored,
Upbear it to the mountain's brow,
Round which, aloft before thee now,
The misty chaplets wreathe--
Not stopping once to breathe."
One knight, whose nostrils bled,
Betokening courage fled,
Cried out, 'What if that current's sweep
Not only rapid be, but deep!
And grant it cross'd,--pray, why encumber
One's arms with that unwieldy lumber,
An elephant of stone?
Perhaps the artist may have done
His work in such a way, that one
Might lug it twice its length;
But then to reach yon mountain top,
And that without a breathing stop,
Were surely past a mortal's strength--
Unless, indeed, it be no bigger
Than some wee, pigmy, dwarfish figure,
Which one would head a cane withal;--
And if to this the case should fall,
The adventurer's honour would be small!
This posting seems to me a trap,
Or riddle for some greenish chap;
I therefore leave the whole to you.'
The doubtful reasoner onward hies.
With heart resolved, in spite of eyes,
The other boldly dashes through;
Nor depth of flood nor force
Can stop his onward course.
He finds the elephant of stone;
He lifts it all alone;
Without a breathing stop,
He bears it to the top
Of that steep mount, and seeth there
A high-wall'd city, great and fair.
Out-cried the elephant--and hush'd;
But forth in arms the people rush'd.
A knight less bold had surely fled;
But he, so far from turning back,
His course right onward sped,
Resolved himself to make attack,
And die but with the bravest dead.
Amazed was he to hear that band
Proclaim him monarch of their land,
And welcome him, in place of one
Whose death had left a vacant throne!
In sooth, he lent a gracious ear,
Meanwhile expressing modest fear,
Lest such a load of royal care
Should be too great for him to bear.
And so, exactly, Sixtus[22] said,
When first the pope's tiara press'd his head;
(Though, is it such a grievous thing
To be a pope, or be a king?)
But days were few before they read it,
That with but little truth he said it.

Blind Fortune follows daring blind.
Oft executes the wisest man,
Ere yet the wisdom of his mind
Is task'd his means or end to scan.

[21] Bidpaii; also in Lokman.
[22] _Sixtus_.--Pope Sixtus V., who simulated decrepitude to get
elected to the Papal chair, and when elected threw off all disguise
and ruled despotically.


An Address To The Duke De La Rochefoucauld.[24]

While watching man in all his phases,
And seeing that, in many cases,
He acts just like the brute creation,--
I've thought the lord of all these races
Of no less failings show'd the traces
Than do his lieges in relation;
And that, in making it, Dame Nature
Hath put a spice in every creature
From off the self-same spirit-stuff--
Not from the immaterial,
But what we call ethereal,
Refined from matter rough.
An illustration please to hear.
Just on the still frontier
Of either day or night,--
Or when the lord of light
Reclines his radiant head
Upon his watery bed,
Or when he dons the gear,
To drive a new career,--
While yet with doubtful sway
The hour is ruled 'twixt night and day,--
Some border forest-tree I climb;
And, acting Jove, from height sublime
My fatal bolt at will directing,
I kill some rabbit unsuspecting.
The rest that frolick'd on the heath,
Or browsed the thyme with dainty teeth,
With open eye and watchful ear,
Behold, all scampering from beneath,
Instinct with mortal fear.
All, frighten'd simply by the sound,
Hie to their city underground.
But soon the danger is forgot,
And just as soon the fear lives not:
The rabbits, gayer than before,
I see beneath my hand once more!

Are not mankind well pictured here?
By storms asunder driven,
They scarcely reach their haven,
And cast their anchor, ere
They tempt the same dread shocks
Of tempests, waves, and rocks.
True rabbits, back they frisk
To meet the self-same risk!

I add another common case.
When dogs pass through a place
Beyond their customary bounds,
And meet with others, curs or hounds,
Imagine what a holiday!
The native dogs, whose interests centre
In one great organ, term'd the venter,
The strangers rush at, bite, and bay;
With cynic pertness tease and worry,
And chase them off their territory.
So, too, do men. Wealth, grandeur, glory,
To men of office or profession,
Of every sort, in every nation,
As tempting are, and sweet,
As is to dogs the refuse meat.
With us, it is a general fact,
One sees the latest-come attack'd,
And plunder'd to the skin.
Coquettes and authors we may view,
As samples of the sin;
For woe to belle or writer new!
The fewer eaters round the cake,
The fewer players for the stake,
The surer each one's self to take.
A hundred facts my truth might test;
But shortest works are always best.
In this I but pursue the chart
Laid down by masters of the art;
And, on the best of themes, I hold,
The truth should never all be told.
Hence, here my sermon ought to close.
O thou, to whom my fable owes
Whate'er it has of solid worth,--
Who, great by modesty as well as birth,
Hast ever counted praise a pain,--
Whose leave I could so ill obtain
That here your name, receiving homage,
Should save from every sort of damage
My slender works--which name, well known
To nations, and to ancient Time,
All France delights to own;
Herself more rich in names sublime
Than any other earthly clime;--
Permit me here the world to teach
That you have given my simple rhyme
The text from which it dares to preach.

[23] This fable in the original editions has no other title save--"An
Address," &c. Later editors titled it "Les Lapins."
[24] _Rochefoucauld_.--See Fable XI., Book I., also dedicated to the
duke, and the note thereto.


Four voyagers to parts unknown,
On shore, not far from naked, thrown
By furious waves,--a merchant, now undone,
A noble, shepherd, and a monarch's son,--
Brought to the lot of Belisarius,[26]
Their wants supplied on alms precarious.
To tell what fates, and winds, and weather,
Had brought these mortals all together,
Though from far distant points abscinded,
Would make my tale long-winded.
Suffice to say, that, by a fountain met,
In council grave these outcasts held debate.
The prince enlarged, in an oration set,
Upon the mis'ries that befall the great.
The shepherd deem'd it best to cast
Off thought of all misfortune past,
And each to do the best he could,
In efforts for the common weal.
'Did ever a repining mood,'
He added, 'a misfortune heal?
Toil, friends, will take us back to Rome,
Or make us here as good a home.'
A shepherd so to speak! a shepherd? What!
As though crown'd heads were not,
By Heaven's appointment fit,
The sole receptacles of wit!
As though a shepherd could be deeper,
In thought or knowledge, than his sheep are!
The three, howe'er, at once approved his plan,
Wreck'd as they were on shores American.
'I'll teach arithmetic,' the merchant said,--
Its rules, of course, well seated in his head,--
'For monthly pay.' The prince replied, 'And I
Will teach political economy.'
'And I,' the noble said, 'in heraldry
Well versed, will open for that branch a school--'
As if, beyond a thousand leagues of sea,
That senseless jargon could befool!
'My friends, you talk like men,'
The shepherd cried, 'but then
The month has thirty days; till they are spent,
Are we upon your faith to keep full Lent?
The hope you give is truly good;
But, ere it comes, we starve for food!
Pray tell me, if you can divine,
On what, to-morrow, we shall dine;
Or tell me, rather, whence we may
Obtain a supper for to-day.
This point, if truth should be confess'd,
Is first, and vital to the rest.
Your science short in this respect,
My hands shall cover the defect.--'
This said, the nearest woods he sought,
And thence for market fagots brought,
Whose price that day, and eke the next,
Relieved the company perplex'd--
Forbidding that, by fasting, they should go
To use their talents in the world below.

We learn from this adventure's course,
There needs but little skill to get a living.
Thanks to the gifts of Nature's giving,
Our hands are much the readiest resource.

[25] Bidpaii, and Lokman.
[26] _Belisarius_.--Belisarius was a great general, who, having
commanded the armies of the emperor, and lost the favour of his
master, fell to such a point of destitution that he asked alms upon
the highways.--La Fontaine. The touching story of the fall of
Belisarius, of which painters and poets have made so much, is
entirely false, as may be seen by consulting Gibbon's "Decline and
Fall of the Roman Empire," chap. xliii.--Translator.

* * * * *


I.--THE LION.[1]

Some time ago, a sultan Leopard,
By means of many a rich escheat,
Had many an ox in meadow sweet,
And many a stag in forest, fleet,
And (what a savage sort of shepherd!)
Full many a sheep upon the plains,
That lay within his wide domains.
Not far away, one morn,
There was a lion born.
Exchanged high compliments of state,
As is the custom with the great,
The sultan call'd his vizier Fox,
Who had a deeper knowledge-box,
And said to him, 'This lion's whelp you dread;
What can he do, his father being dead?
Our pity rather let him share,
An orphan so beset with care.
The luckiest lion ever known,
If, letting conquest quite alone,
He should have power to keep his own.'
Sir Renard said,
And shook his head,
'Such orphans, please your majesty,
Will get no pity out of me.
We ought to keep within his favour,
Or else with all our might endeavour
To thrust him out of life and throne,
Ere yet his claws and teeth are grown.
There's not a moment to be lost.
His horoscope I've cast;
He'll never quarrel to his cost;
But then his friendship fast
Will be to friends of greater worth
Than any lion's e'er on earth.
Try then, my liege, to make it ours,
Or else to check his rising powers.'
The warning fell in vain.
The sultan slept; and beasts and men
Did so, throughout his whole domain,
Till lion's whelp became a lion.
Then came at once the tocsin cry on,
Alarm and fluttering consternation.
The vizier call'd to consultation,
A sigh escaped him as he said,
'Why all this mad excitement now,
When hope is fled, no matter how?
A thousand men were useless aid,--
The more, the worse,--since all their power
Would be our mutton to devour.
Appease this lion; sole he doth exceed
The helpers all that on us feed.
And three hath he, that cost him nought--
His courage, strength, and watchful thought.
Quick send a wether for his use:
If not contented, send him more;
Yes, add an ox, and see you choose
The best our pastures ever bore.
Thus save the rest.'--But such advice
The sultan spurn'd, as cowardice.
And his, and many states beside,
Did ills, in consequence, betide.
However fought this world allied,
The beast maintain'd his power and pride.
If you must let the lion grow,
Don't let him live to be your foe.

[1] The fable of the young Leopard in the Bidpaii collection resembles


For Monseigneur The Duke Du Maine.

To Jupiter was born a son,[3]
Who, conscious of his origin,
A godlike spirit had within.
To love, such age is little prone;
Yet this celestial boy
Made love his chief employ,
And was beloved wherever known.
In him both love and reason
Sprang up before their season.
With charming smiles and manners winning,
Had Flora deck'd his life's beginning,
As an Olympian became:
Whatever lights the tender flame,--
A heart to take and render bliss,--
Tears, sighs, in short the whole were his.
Jove's son, he should of course inherit
A higher and a nobler spirit
Than sons of other deities.
It seem'd as if by Memory's aid--
As if a previous life had made
Experiment and hid it--
He plied the lover's hard-learn'd trade,
So perfectly he did it.
Still Jupiter would educate
In manner fitting to his state.
The gods, obedient to his call,
Assemble in their council-hall;
When thus the sire: 'Companionless and sole,
Thus far the boundless universe I roll;
But numerous other offices there are,
Of which I give to younger gods the care.
I'm now forecasting for this cherish'd child,
Whose countless altars are already piled.
To merit such regard from all below,
All things the young immortal ought to know.'
No sooner had the Thund'rer ended,
Than each his godlike plan commended;
Nor did the boy too little yearn
His lesson infinite to learn.
Said fiery Mars, 'I take the part
To make him master of the art
Whereby so many heroes high
Have won the honours of the sky.'
'To teach him music be my care,'
Apollo said, the wise and fair;
'And mine,' that mighty god replied,
In the Nemaean lion's hide,
'To teach him to subdue
The vices, an envenom'd crew,
Like Hydras springing ever new.
The foe of weakening luxury,
The boy divine will learn from me
Those rugged paths, so little trod,
That lead to glory man and god.'
Said Cupid, when it came his turn,
'All things from me the boy may learn.'

Well spoke the god of love.
What feat of Mars, or Hercules,
Or bright Apollo, lies above
Wit, wing'd by a desire to please?

[2] This title does not exist in the original editions. It appeared for
the first time in the edition of 1709. The original heading to the
fable is "For Monseigneur," &c.
[3] _To Jupiter was born a son_.--Jupiter here is Louis XIV., and his son
is the Duke du Maine to whom the fable is addressed. The duke was the
son of Louis and Madame de Montespan. He was born at Versailles in
1670; and when La Fontaine wrote this address to him he was about
eight years old, and the pupil of Madame de Maintenon, his mother's
successor in the affections of the king.


The wolf and fox are neighbours strange:
I would not build within their range.
The fox once eyed with strict regard
From day to day, a poultry-yard;
But though a most accomplish'd cheat,
He could not get a fowl to eat.
Between the risk and appetite,
His rogueship's trouble was not slight.
'Alas!' quoth he, 'this stupid rabble
But mock me with their constant gabble;
I go and come, and rack my brains,
And get my labour for my pains.
Your rustic owner, safe at home,
Takes all the profits as they come:
He sells his capons and his chicks,
Or keeps them hanging on his hook,
All dress'd and ready for his cook;
But I, adept in art and tricks,
Should I but catch the toughest crower,
Should be brimful of joy, and more.
O Jove supreme! why was I made
A master of the fox's trade?
By all the higher powers, and lower,
I swear to rob this chicken-grower!'
Revolving such revenge within,
When night had still'd the various din,
And poppies seem'd to bear full sway
O'er man and dog, as lock'd they lay
Alike secure in slumber deep,
And cocks and hens were fast asleep,
Upon the populous roost he stole.
By negligence,--a common sin,--
The farmer left unclosed the hole,
And, stooping down, the fox went in.
The blood of every fowl was spill'd,
The citadel with murder fill'd.
The dawn disclosed sad sights, I ween,
When heaps on slaughter'd heaps were seen,
All weltering in their mingled gore.
With horror stricken, as of yore,
The sun well nigh shrunk back again,
To hide beneath the liquid main.
Such sight once saw the Trojan plain,
When on the fierce Atrides'[5] head
Apollo's awful anger fell,
And strew'd the crimson field with dead:
Of Greeks, scarce one was left to tell
The carnage of that night so dread.
Such slaughter, too, around his tent,
The furious Ajax made, one night,
Of sheep and goats, in easy fight;
In anger blindly confident
That by his well-directed blows
Ulysses fell, or some of those
By whose iniquity and lies
That wily rival took the prize.
The fox, thus having Ajax play'd,
Bore off the nicest of the brood,--
As many pullets as he could,--
And left the rest, all prostrate laid.
The owner found his sole resource
His servants and his dog to curse.
'You useless puppy, better drown'd!
Why did you not your 'larum sound?'
'Why did you not the evil shun,'
Quoth Towser, 'as you might have done?
If you, whose interest was more,
Could sleep and leave an open door,
Think you that I, a dog at best,
Would watch, and lose my precious rest?'
This pithy speech had been, in truth,
Good logic in a master's mouth;
But, coming from a menial's lip,
It even lack'd the lawyership
To save poor Towser from the whip.

O thou who head'st a family,
(An honour never grudged by me,)
Thou art a patriarch unwise,
To sleep, and trust another's eyes.
Thyself shouldst go to bed the last,
Thy doors all seen to, shut and fast.
I charge you never let a fox see
Your special business done by proxy.

[4] Abstemius.
[5] _Atrides_.--Atreus, or Atrides, king of Mycenae, and grandfather
of Agamemnon. He caused his brother Theyestes to banquet on the flesh
of his own children. After the repast, proceeds the story, the arms
and heads of the murdered children were produced to convince
Theyestes of what he had feasted on; and at the deed "the sun shrunk
back in his course."


Long since, a Mogul saw, in dream,
A vizier in Elysian bliss;
No higher joy could be or seem,
Or purer, than was ever his.
Elsewhere was dream'd of by the same
A wretched hermit wrapp'd in flame,
Whose lot e'en touch'd, so pain'd was he,
The partners of his misery.
Was Minos[7] mock'd? or had these ghosts,
By some mistake, exchanged their posts?
Surprise at this the vision broke;
The dreamer suddenly awoke.
Some mystery suspecting in it,
He got a wise one to explain it.
Replied the sage interpreter,
'Let not the thing a marvel seem:
There is a meaning in your dream:
If I have aught of knowledge, sir,
It covers counsel from the gods.
While tenanting these clay abodes,
This vizier sometimes gladly sought
The solitude that favours thought;
Whereas, the hermit, in his cot,
Had longings for a vizier's lot.'
To this interpretation dared I add,
The love of solitude I would inspire.
It satisfies the heart's desire
With unencumber'd gifts and glad--
Heaven-planted joys, of stingless sweet,
Aye springing up beneath our feet.
O Solitude! whose secret charms I know--
Retreats that I have loved--when shall I go
To taste, far from a world of din and noise,
Your shades so fresh, where silence has a voice?
When shall their soothing gloom my refuge be?
When shall the sacred Nine, from courts afar,
And cities with all solitude at war,
Engross entire, and teach their votary
The stealthy movements of the spangled nights,
The names and virtues of those errant lights
Which rule o'er human character and fate?
Or, if not born to purposes so great,
The streams, at least, shall win my heartfelt thanks,
While, in my verse, I paint their flowery banks.
Fate shall not weave my life with golden thread,
Nor, 'neath rich fret-work, on a purple bed,
Shall I repose, full late, my care-worn head.
But will my sleep be less a treasure?
Less deep, thereby, and full of pleasure?
I vow it, sweet and gentle as the dew,
Within those deserts sacrifices new;
And when the time shall come to yield my breath,
Without remorse I'll join the ranks of Death.[8]

[6] The original story of this fable is traced to Sadi, the Persian poet
and fabulist, who flourished in the twelfth century. La Fontaine
probably found it in the French edition of Sadi's "Gulistan; or the
Garden of Flowers" which was published by Andre du Ryer in 1634.
[7] _Minos_.--Chief judge in the infernal regions.
[8] For some remarks upon this fable see Translator's Preface.


The lion, for his kingdom's sake,
In morals would some lessons take,
And therefore call'd, one summer's day,
The monkey, master of the arts,
An animal of brilliant parts,
To hear what he could say.
'Great king,' the monkey thus began,
'To reign upon the wisest plan
Requires a prince to set his zeal,
And passion for the public weal,
Distinctly and quite high above
A certain feeling call'd self-love,
The parent of all vices,
In creatures of all sizes.
To will this feeling from one's breast away,
Is not the easy labour of a day;
'Tis much to moderate its tyrant sway.
By that your majesty august,
Will execute your royal trust,
From folly free and aught unjust.'
'Give me,' replied the king,
'Example of each thing.'
'Each species,' said the sage,--
'And I begin with ours,--
Exalts its own peculiar powers
Above sound reason's gauge.
Meanwhile, all other kinds and tribes
As fools and blockheads it describes,
With other compliments as cheap.
But, on the other hand, the same
Self-love inspires a beast to heap
The highest pyramid of fame
For every one that bears his name;
Because he justly deems such praise
The easiest way himself to raise.
'Tis my conclusion in the case,
That many a talent here below
Is but cabal, or sheer grimace,--
The art of seeming things to know--
An art in which perfection lies
More with the ignorant than wise.

'Two asses tracking, t'other day,
Of which each in his turn,
Did incense to the other burn,
Quite in the usual way,--
I heard one to his comrade say,
"My lord, do you not find
The prince of knaves and fools
To be this man, who boasts of mind
Instructed in his schools?
With wit unseemly and profane,
He mocks our venerable race--
On each of his who lacketh brain
Bestows our ancient surname, ass!
And, with abusive tongue portraying,
Describes our laugh and talk as braying!
These bipeds of their folly tell us,
While thus pretending to excel us."
"No, 'tis for you to speak, my friend,
And let their orators attend.
The braying is their own, but let them be:
We understand each other, and agree,
And that's enough. As for your song,
Such wonders to its notes belong,
The nightingale is put to shame,
And Lambert[10] loses half his fame."
"My lord," the other ass replied,
"Such talents in yourself reside,
Of asses all, the joy and pride."
These donkeys, not quite satisfied
With scratching thus each other's hide,
Must needs the cities visit,
Their fortunes there to raise,
By sounding forth the praise,
Each, of the other's skill exquisite.
Full many, in this age of ours,--
Not only among asses,
But in the higher classes,
Whom Heaven hath clothed with higher powers,--
Dared they but do it, would exalt
A simple innocence from fault,
Or virtue common and domestic,
To excellence majestic.
I've said too much, perhaps; but I suppose
Your majesty the secret won't disclose,
Since 'twas your majesty's request that I
This matter should exemplify.
How love of self gives food to ridicule,
I've shown. To prove the balance of my rule,
That justice is a sufferer thereby,
A longer time will take.'

'Twas thus the monkey spake.
But my informant does not state,
That e'er the sage did demonstrate
The other point, more delicate.
Perhaps he thought none but a fool
A lion would too strictly school.

[9] This fable is founded upon the Latin proverb _Asinus asinum fricat_.
[10] _Lambert_.--This was Michael Lambert, master of chamber-music to
Louis XIV., and brother-in-law to the Grand Monarque's other great
music man, J. B. Lulli, who was chapel-music master.


Why Aesop gave the palm of cunning,
O'er flying animals and running,
To Renard Fox, I cannot tell,
Though I have search'd the subject well.
Hath not Sir Wolf an equal skill
In tricks and artifices shown,
When he would do some life an ill,
Or from his foes defend his own?
I think he hath; and, void of disrespect,
I might, perhaps, my master contradict:
Yet here's a case, in which the burrow-lodger
Was palpably, I own, the brightest dodger.
One night he spied within a well,
Wherein the fullest moonlight fell,
What seem'd to him an ample cheese.
Two balanced buckets took their turns
When drawers thence would fill their urns.
Our fox went down in one of these,
By hunger greatly press'd to sup,
And drew the other empty up.
Convinced at once of his mistake,
And anxious for his safety's sake,
He saw his death was near and sure,
Unless some other wretch in need
The same moon's image should allure
To take a bucket and succeed
To his predicament, indeed.
Two days pass'd by, and none approach'd the well;
Unhalting Time, as is his wont,
Was scooping from the moon's full front,
And as he scoop'd Sir Renard's courage fell.
His crony wolf, of clamorous maw,
Poor fox at last above him saw,
And cried, 'My comrade, look you here!
See what abundance of good cheer!
A cheese of most delicious zest!
Which Faunus must himself have press'd,
Of milk by heifer Io given.
If Jupiter were sick in heaven,
The taste would bring his appetite.
I've taken, as you see, a bite;
But still for both there is a plenty.
Pray take the bucket that I've sent ye;
Come down, and get your share.'
Although, to make the story fair,
The fox had used his utmost care,
The wolf (a fool to give him credit)
Went down because his stomach bid it--
And by his weight pull'd up
Sir Renard to the top.
We need not mock this simpleton,
For we ourselves such deeds have done.
Our faith is prone to lend its ear
To aught which we desire or fear.


To judge no man by outside view,
Is good advice, though not quite new.
Some time ago a mouse's fright
Upon this moral shed some light.
I have for proof at present,
With, Aesop and good Socrates,[12]
Of Danube's banks a certain peasant,
Whose portrait drawn to life, one sees,
By Marc Aurelius, if you please.
The first are well known, far and near:
I briefly sketch the other here.
The crop upon his fertile chin
Was anything but soft or thin;
Indeed, his person, clothed in hair,
Might personate an unlick'd bear.
Beneath his matted brow there lay
An eye that squinted every way;
A crooked nose and monstrous lips he bore,
And goat-skin round his trunk he wore,
With bulrush belt. And such a man as this is
Was delegate from towns the Danube kisses,
When not a nook on earth there linger'd
By Roman avarice not finger'd.
Before the senate thus he spoke:--
'Romans and senators who hear,
I, first of all, the gods invoke,
The powers whom mortals justly fear,
That from my tongue there may not fall
A word which I may need recall.
Without their aid there enters nought
To human hearts of good or just:
Whoever leaves the same unsought,
Is prone to violate his trust;
The prey of Roman avarice,
Ourselves are witnesses of this.
Rome, by our crimes, our scourge has grown,
More than by valour of her own.
Romans, beware lest Heaven, some day,
Exact for all our groans the pay,
And, arming us, by just reverse,
To do its vengeance, stern, but meet,
Shall pour on you the vassal's curse,
And place your necks beneath our feet!
And wherefore not? For are you better
Than hundreds of the tribes diverse
Who clank the galling Roman fetter?
What right gives you the universe?
Why come and mar our quiet life?
We till'd our acres free from strife;
In arts our hands were skill'd to toil,
As well as o'er the generous soil.
What have you taught the Germans brave?
Apt scholars, had but they
Your appetite for sway,
They might, instead of you, enslave,
Without your inhumanity.
That which your praetors perpetrate
On us, as subjects of your state,
My powers would fail me to relate.
Profaned their altars and their rites,
The pity of your gods our lot excites.
Thanks to your representatives,
In you they see but shameless thieves,
Who plunder gods as well as men.
By sateless avarice insane,
The men that rule our land from this
Are like the bottomless abyss.
To satisfy their lust of gain,
Both man and nature toil in vain.
Recall them; for indeed we will
Our fields for such no longer till.
From all our towns and plains we fly
For refuge to our mountains high.
We quit our homes and tender wives,
To lead with savage beasts our lives--
No more to welcome into day
A progeny for Rome a prey.
And as to those already born--
Poor helpless babes forlorn!--
We wish them short career in time:
Your praetors force us to the crime.
Are they our teachers? Call them home,--
They teach but luxury and vice,--
Lest Germans should their likes become,
In fell remorseless avarice.
Have we a remedy at Rome?
I'll tell you here how matters go.
Hath one no present to bestow,
No purple for a judge or so,
The laws for him are deaf and dumb;
Their minister has aye in store
A thousand hindrances or more.
I'm sensible that truths like these
Are not the things to please.
I've done. Let death avenge you here
Of my complaint, a little too sincere.'

He said no more; but all admired
The thought with which his speech was fired;
The eloquence and heart of oak
With which the prostrate savage spoke.
Indeed, so much were all delighted,
As due revenge, the man was knighted.
The praetors were at once displaced,
And better men the office graced.
The senate, also, by decree,
Besought a copy of the speech,
Which might to future speakers be
A model for the use of each.
Not long, howe'er, had Rome the sense
To entertain such eloquence.

[11] La Fontaine got the historical story embodied in this fable from
Marcus Aurelius (as he acknowledges), probably through Francois
Cassandre's "Paralleles Historiques," 1676, and the translation
(from the Spanish of Guevara) titled the "Horloge des Princes,"
which Grise and De Heberay published at Lyons in 1575.
[12] Aesop and Socrates are usually represented as very ugly.


A man was planting at fourscore.
Three striplings, who their satchels wore,
'In building,' cried, 'the sense were more;
But then to plant young trees at that age!
The man is surely in his dotage.
Pray, in the name of common sense,
What fruit can he expect to gather
Of all this labour and expense?
Why, he must live like Lamech's father!
What use for thee, grey-headed man,
To load the remnant of thy span
With care for days that never can be thine?
Thyself to thought of errors past resign.
Long-growing hope, and lofty plan,
Leave thou to us, to whom such things belong.'
'To you!' replied the old man, hale and strong;
'I dare pronounce you altogether wrong.
The settled part of man's estate
Is very brief, and comes full late.
To those pale, gaming sisters trine,
Your lives are stakes as well as mine.
While so uncertain is the sequel,
Our terms of future life are equal;
For none can tell who last shall close his eyes
Upon the glories of these azure skies;
Nor any moment give us, ere it flies,
Assurance that another such shall rise,
But my descendants, whosoe'er they be,
Shall owe these cooling fruits and shades to me.
Do you acquit yourselves, in wisdom's sight,
From ministering to other hearts delight?
Why, boys, this is the fruit I gather now;
And sweeter never blush'd on bended bough.
Of this, to-morrow, I may take my fill;
Indeed, I may enjoy its sweetness till
I see full many mornings chase the glooms
From off the marble of your youthful tombs.'
The grey-beard man was right. One of the three,
Embarking, foreign lands to see,
Was drown'd within the very port.
In quest of dignity at court,
Another met his country's foe,
And perish'd by a random blow.
The third was kill'd by falling from a tree
Which he himself would graft. The three
Were mourn'd by him of hoary head,
Who chisel'd on each monument--
On doing good intent--
The things which we have said.

[13] Abstemius.


Beware of saying, 'Lend an ear,'
To something marvellous or witty.
To disappoint your friends who hear,
Is possible, and were a pity.
But now a clear exception see,
Which I maintain a prodigy--
A thing which with the air of fable,
Is true as is the interest-table.
A pine was by a woodman fell'd,
Which ancient, huge, and hollow tree
An owl had for his palace held--
A bird the Fates[14] had kept in fee,
Interpreter to such as we.
Within the caverns of the pine,
With other tenants of that mine,
Were found full many footless mice,
But well provision'd, fat, and nice.
The bird had bit off all their feet,
And fed them there with heaps of wheat.
That this owl reason'd, who can doubt?
When to the chase he first went out,
And home alive the vermin brought,
Which in his talons he had caught,
The nimble creatures ran away.
Next time, resolved to make them stay,
He cropp'd their legs, and found, with pleasure,
That he could eat them at his leisure;
It were impossible to eat
Them all at once, did health permit.
His foresight, equal to our own,
In furnishing their food was shown.
Now, let Cartesians, if they can,
Pronounce this owl a mere machine.
Could springs originate the plan
Of maiming mice when taken lean,
To fatten for his soup-tureen?
If reason did no service there,
I do not know it anywhere.
Observe the course of argument:
These vermin are no sooner caught than gone:
They must be used as soon, 'tis evident;
But this to all cannot be done.
And then, for future need,
I might as well take heed.
Hence, while their ribs I lard,
I must from their elopement guard.
But how?--A plan complete!--
I'll clip them of their feet!
Now, find me, in your human schools,
A better use of logic's tools!
Upon your faith, what different art of thought
Has Aristotle or his followers taught?[15]

[14] _A bird the Fates_, &c.--The owl was the bird of Atropos, the
most terrible of the Fates, to whom was entrusted the task of
cutting the thread of life.
[15] La Fontaine, in a note, asserts that the subject of this fable,
however marvellous, was a fact which was actually observed. His
commentators, however, think the observers must have been in some
measure mistaken, and I agree with them.--Translator. In Fable I.,
Book X., La Fontaine also argues that brutes have reasoning


'Tis thus, by crystal fount, my muse hath sung,
Translating into heavenly tongue
Whatever came within my reach,
From hosts of beings borr'wing nature's speech.
Interpreter of tribes diverse,
I've made them actors on my motley stage;
For in this boundless universe
There's none that talketh, simpleton or sage,
More eloquent at home than in my verse.
If some should find themselves by me the worse,
And this my work prove not a model true,
To that which I at least rough-hew,
Succeeding hands will give the finish due.
Ye pets of those sweet sisters nine,
Complete the task that I resign;
The lessons give, which doubtless I've omitted,
With wings by these inventions nicely fitted!
But you're already more than occupied;
For while my muse her harmless work hath plied,
All Europe to our sovereign yields,[16]
And learns, upon her battle-fields,
To bow before the noblest plan
That ever monarch form'd, or man.
Thence draw those sisters themes sublime,
With power to conquer Fate and Time.[17]

[16] _All Europe to our sovereign yields_.--An allusion to the
conclusion of the peace of Nimeguen by Louis XIV., in 1678. Louis to
some extent negotiated the treaty of this peace in person, and
having bought the support of the English king, Charles II. (as shown
in the note to Fable XVIII., Book VII.) the terms of the treaty were
almost his own. The glory of the achievement procured for Louis the
surname of "le Grand." The king's praises upon this account are
further sounded by La Fontaine in Fable X., Book XII.

[17] With the Epilogue to the XIth Book La Fontaine concluded his issue
of Fables up to 1678-9. The XIIth and last Book was not added till
1694, the year before the poet's death. See Translator's Preface.

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